Can restaurant workers perform like magicians? Well, they should at least think like them, argues Kostya Kimlat, magician and owner of Restaurant Magic Business, which places performing magicians in restaurants and consults restaurants on improving customer service. Clients include Orlando-based restaurants and chains like Del Frisco’s and the Melting Pot.
“Too often we only see the world from our point of view and assign our way of thinking to others,” he says. The key to successful table service—and magic—is understanding the guest’s perception. “The effect [of magic] isn’t created in the hand but in the mind of the spectator. The guest’s mind is the final battleground.
“Understanding perception is at the core of creating an engaging environment for employees and a memorable experience for guests,” Kimlat says. Here’s how it applies to restaurant workers, from the server to the owner.
“Don’t make assumptions about your guests,” says Kimlat. “Instead, be perceptive of people’s personalities and the social dynamics of the entire group.”
Kimlat teaches restaurants about four general personality types to watch for—warm, cold, fast and slow—which he lays out in a grid (see image).
By focusing on a guest’s warmth or coldness, and their relative speed of speech or mannerism, it can give servers the information they need to identify the guest’s type and ultimately their needs.
A manager’s job is to create experiences—for guests and staff—says Kimlat, and to do this they must “first uncover expectations.”
“Most magic fools the brain because people’s minds are on auto-pilot,” he says. In other words they come to a magic show with certain expectations about how the world works. Understanding those expectations, a magician can then manage them.
“When you ask if a guest has been to the restaurant before, it’s not just to make conversation. Pay attention to their tone. This will tell you a lot about their expectations.”
Delivering on their expectations is the first step. Exceeding them is the goal.
“Since every guest has different expectations, train your team to uncover their expectations so that they can then create unexpected moments.”
Inside the walls of a restaurant, perceptions are flying: guests perceive the brand, the server, the atmosphere; servers perceive the management, their fellow workers, their guests.
To become a master of interpreting other people’s perceptions, asserts Kimlat, “begin by taking a walk outside of your restaurant to see it anew, just as a first-time guest would. Now take that strategy and apply it to every facet of your business, removing yourself and stepping outside your point of view and beyond your zone of comfort.”
Also remember that perception works both ways: they see you, but you also see them. And often, we falsely think we have all the information we need to understand the world around us. “We swear the coin is in one hand, when it vanished a long time ago.”
Understanding how the brain is easily deceived can help you see more clearly the things that may be hiding in plain sight.
“The kind of deception I am speaking of is the kind where we convince ourselves that something is a certain way and ignore proof that shows otherwise. Specifically for owners, because they have so many levels they are working on, it is easy to do,” Kimlat explains.
Additionally, perception builds empathy. The more you stretch your perceptions, the more you are able to see things from others’ point of views. Greater customer service follows almost naturally from there, says Kimlat.